Sunshine is one of life’s greatest pleasures, it brings joy and feels so good when it shines down on us. However, it may not always be on our mind to practice sun safety unless we’re at the beach. But sunshine can be harmful to us, especially our skin, when we’re not proactive about skin protection and sun safety measures.
Sunlight is something we are exposed to everyday, which makes it one of the most significant environmental agents of DNA and skin damage. In fact, “around one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States, and about 70% of which are the result of repeated exposure of the skin to sunlight.”
Seniors’ older years are often referred to as the Golden Years, but not because of a sun tan! Sun safety becomes increasingly important in the Golden Years to protect seniors from harmful skin damage and other health complications associated with repeated sun exposure. Practicing sun safety helps seniors maintain their highest quality of life.
Many seniors feel they have earned the right to be more carefree in their older age. While they should absolutely dance like no one is watching, and sing like no one is listening to enjoy their life to the fullest - they should not become reckless with their health.
There are safe ways to get sun exposure without getting sun damage. Unfortunately, sun damage accumulates to become a bigger risk over time, and our bodies can become more susceptible to sun damage with age - doubling our risks. Since seniors have increased risks to consider, sun safety is important and we’ll cover a few different sun safety methods in this post.
Safe Sun Exposure
Our bodies need Vitamin D to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. Our main source of Vitamin D is sunlight, which means we do need to get some sun on our skin.
Safe sun exposure means avoiding the sun when UV rays are stronger. Your local weather station will most likely report a UV index using the UVI reporting established by the World Health Organization.
You can review a UV index scale here to understand more specific ways to protect yourself and senior loved ones during days when the UV index is high. It’s a good idea to develop a habit of checking the UV index daily along with the weather.
UV rays are typically strongest between 10am to 4pm, and during the spring and summer months. This means that most people, especially seniors, should avoid prolonged sun exposure between 10am to 4pm during spring or summer months.
Sun Damage Accumulates
When our skin gets too much sunlight, especially in those spring or summer months, the visible sign of damage is a sunburn. Although sunburns fade, the damage that has been done to our skin never goes away. Even a sun tan is a form of skin damage caused by sunlight, and this damage can cause harmful mutations to our DNA.
Over time, the damage that is caused by sun tans or sunburns multiplies the risks of developing skin cancer. This is why protection from the sun is important throughout our entire lives, but it becomes even more important for seniors who may have had a lot of past exposure to damaging UV rays.
Skin Becomes Weaker With Age
Changes in our bodies as we age can weaken our defenses against sun damage. These changes include a reduced immune system, slower healing capacity, thinner skin, and accumulated damage from pollution.
As we mentioned above, seniors should avoid sun exposure between 10am to 4pm during spring and summer months. Thinner skin means the risk of sun damage increases, and some medications may increase seniors’ sensitivity to sunlight. A reduced immune system also makes it more difficult for senior skin to heal after too much sun exposure.
If you and your senior loved ones are spending time at a cottage or a beach, remember to apply sunscreen with strong UVA/UVB protection every two hours. If you are swimming or sweating, your sunscreen can wash off, so you should apply it again. Also, keep in mind that water and sand are reflective surfaces that reflect UV rays and increase exposure. Time should be limited around these surfaces.
Seniors should seek shade often. When using umbrellas or canopies for shade, always ensure they have a UV protection layer. Some seniors can have trouble regulating their body temperature as their bodies get older. Being indoors with air conditioning will help, and you should keep an eye on their fluid intake to ensure they don’t get dehydrated. Read our post about hydration for seniors for more helpful tips.
Appropriate Clothing and Accessories
With UV rays being strongest in spring and summer months, it is advised to always wear a hat and sunglasses that have UV protection.
Some clothing is also specially designed for summer with UV protection built in. Seniors should still apply sunscreen as a preventative measure, but these clothing options can help when gardening or doing other activities outdoors.
Even on cloudy days, sun protection is required. Cloud cover can sometimes lower the UV index, but it can also reflect UV, which increases the UV index. The important thing to remember is to still wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses, and regularly seek shade.
Changes in Skin Condition
It is important to regularly take an objective look at our skin to identify any changes. If your senior loved ones need help checking the skin on their back, you or a caregiver can assist with this.
It’s a good idea to keep a journal of what you notice for your and your loved ones’ skin condition. It can be difficult to remember exactly how a freckle or mole looked in the past, so being descriptive with notes and even taking pictures can be very helpful.
If you do notice any changes in the shape or appearance of your senior loved ones’ freckles or moles, you will want them to see their doctor and maybe even a dermatologist. Some changes may be normal and not related to skin cancer, but it is best to check with your loved one’s doctor to get a diagnosis as soon as possible.
As mentioned earlier, sun damage accumulates over the years, so the odds of developing skin cancer rises as we age. Continue monitoring your senior loved ones’ skin condition and encouraging them to take good care of their health with sun protection.
Many seniors might think there is no point in protecting their skin from the sun since the damage has been done from past years spent working or relaxing in the sunshine. But it is never too late to help prevent further damage and lower their skin cancer risk.
Implementing sun safety measures in the spring and summer is a must, but UV rays are still present in the cooler months and can cause skin damage. In the summer, the best way to protect against sun damage is applying sunscreen, wearing clothing and accessories that offer UV protection, seeking shade, staying hydrated, and spending time indoors with air conditioning.
In the cooler months, your senior loved ones can use a moisturizer that offers some UV protection since sunscreen is less needed, they should still wear sunglasses with UV protection when the sun is out as snow is a reflective surface that increases UV exposure.
Overall, taking care of our health is a lifelong pursuit and sun safety helps seniors maintain their highest quality of life.